News outlets in India have once again tried to push fabricated stories to whitewash New Delhi’s atrocities in Kashmir.
When it comes to Kashmir, the Muslim-majority Himalayan region, where India has battled a popular uprising for decades, even fake news can have wide reverberations.
Over the weekend, Pakistan’s foreign ministry had to issue an official denial to address a ‘news report’ that has been doing the rounds in the mainstream Indian media.
“Pakistan completely rejects concoctions based on “fake news”, in a section of the Indian media, alleging transfer of foreign fighters to Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK),” it said in a statement.
Both Pakistan and India have control over parts of Kashmir and they see the other as an occupying force.
Since Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year condemned New Delhi’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s nominal autonomy, Indian media outlets have targeted the Turkish leader relentlessly.
The latest episode unfolded after a Greek news website, Pentapostagma, published an unsubstantiated article that made an absurd assertion that Syrian mercenaries were being paid $2,000 to travel and fight in Kashmir.
The ‘news’ that first needed to be translated into English quickly inflamed passions in the nuclear-armed neighbours and archrivals.
News organisations such as India Today and India.com, which went full-throttle in October over an imaginary civil war in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, were quick to draw far-fetched assumptions about Ankara’s military involvement in the region.
“India’s propaganda is rubbish and a crude attempt to undercut Turkey’s political and diplomatic support for Kashmiris struggling against Indian oppression and tyranny. It won’t happen,” said Sardar Masood Khan, the President of the Pakistani side of Kashmir.
The Greek article made a conspiratorial connection between Kashmir’s homegrown militancy and the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey has steadfastly backed its long-time ally Azerbaijan, a fellow Turkic country. Ankara supported Baku diplomatically and militarily especially with its drones which turned the tide in Azerbaijan’s favour.
During the 44-day war, a few reports alleged that Turkey-backed Syrian militias were fighting alongside Azerbaijani forces. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan denied the allegations.
But Pentapostgama made the wild assertion that since these Syrian fighters now have the experience of fighting in the Karabakh mountains, they can easily be transferred to Kashmir’s Himalayan terrain.
Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads over the right to search for oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Ankara says that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus must also have a share in the petroleum bounty.
A jingoistic media frenzy
India has long accused Pakistan of training and sending militants to fight in the part of Kashmir under its control. Islamabad denies the allegations, saying that it is a homegrown insurgency fuelled by the brutality of the Indian military.
New Delhi has deployed more than 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir, which has seen multiple lockdowns in the past year.
In August 2019, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped Kashmir’s nominal autonomy, igniting street protests as Muslims feared the decision was intended to turn them into a minority.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has made a big show of the unilateral move on the disputed Kashmir region, emphasising how New Delhi has managed to isolate Pakistan and mute international condemnation.
Turkey is among a handful of countries which has come out strongly in support of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.
As recently as September, President Erdogan called the matter a “burning issue” at the United Nations sessions, drawing praise from the Kashmiri diaspora which feels that India wants to avoid debate on the human rights violations there.
But Turkey’s position has obviously rubbed BJP-aligned news outlets the wrong way as a series of anti-Turkey stories have appeared in the past year.
Quoting ‘intelligence reports’, the Hindustan Times reported in August that Turkey was luring Muslim students from India, especially Kashmir, to radicalise them and hand them over to Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI.
A month later, Zee News ran an article about how Pakistanis have been hired at state-run Turkish news outlets including TRT World. It didn’t mention that many Indians are also employed in the same organisation at high positions.
It doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, popular Indian actor Aamir Khan faced the ire of the Indian media when he met President Erdogan’s wife, Emine, during a visit to Istanbul.
Khan is among the few foreign actors easily recognisable in Turkey.